Old school Bodybuilding vs Modern: a steroid issue?

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Old school Bodybuilding vs Modern: a steroid issue?

Hi there! Do you miss golden era bodybuilding freaky routines? When I look at some footage from the old days, I can understand why some people miss this era.

Whether or not you were born in the days of the golden age of bodybuilding, it’s hard not to know about this Pumping Iron sequence where Lou Ferrigno makes these shoulder presses look suffering on his way to stage to face Arnold Schwarzenegger.

These days, everyone seems to be a pro in modern bodybuilding. In the golden era, you could put a name on all old-school bodybuilders who were professional. That’s because there weren’t many of them… Now you go on Instagram and everyone earns their pro-card.

These people seem to come and go on a daily basis.

Serge Nubret in an interview for bodybuilding.com has let us felt that he regrets where bodybuilding was heading:

serge nubret talking about modern bodybuilding

So what is the reason for such a change?

Steroid abuse changed old-school bodybuilding

As well as seeing these new pros all over, we also see a massive change in the way that bodybuilders look or train. Their condition is not as good as it used to be and old school bodybuilders still alive to these days are crying over this “grainy” look and condition they can’t see anymore.

There is a chance steroid abuse and more recently SARMs abuse had a huge influence on this trend. But mostly more dangerous substances like insulin or growth hormone. In this article, I’ll try to point out in a sarcastic way (but kinda true) what’s changed since the golden era. 

It might offend a few people but it surely will be relatable for some others!

The golden era is being missed

Do you miss the golden age bodybuilders and their baggy clothes? 

I do not like to promote any sort of drug use, but it’s hard to deny watching old- school bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Priest or Flex Wheeler in their prim is not enjoyable. 

It’s probably not to everyone’s taste and even if you are not a fan of enhanced bodybuilding, you have to recognize that not only were these physiques impressive, but you knew in almost all cases they were working super hard and the drugs were used in relative moderation (still a lot, but it was not overly abused at the time).

arnold schwarzenegger back pose

Furthermore, everyone kept their drug use very low key, which was obviously much better as it would not give any bad ideas to the younger generations. Unfortunately, we might have to blame the internet and Instagram which are massively contributing to the increase in steroid abuse in the modern-day fitness industry.

Old school bodybuilders are right, but they can’t say much

Some people blame old-school bodybuilders who complain about drug abuse in modern bodybuilding and its huge increase in popularity because they can’t really say anything about it when their fame and career had involved drug use.

These old school bodybuilders are not wrong though, the problem is that they actually can’t say anything because they used it too! Arnold has not spoken about drug-testing since the first time he did it.

What they’re trying to say is that now there is a problem with steroid abuse and that they hardly see the hard work they once knew – the days of Arnold Schwarzenegger training 5 hours a day are gone. This would also explain the “bad” look bodybuilders have these days. 

There is drug-abuse more than ever and on a large scale, bodybuilders seem to not work as hard as in the past. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but certainly a majority. Insulin and growth hormones have never been used that much, and this probably affects their condition.

Why did old-school bodybuilders look better? 

Modern bodybuilding: too much drugs and less conditioning?

A professional bodybuilder called John Meadows recently had a good point. He is very active on Youtube and has great knowledge. He always acknowledges natural bodybuilders in the industry and provides them with very good tips.

bubble gut in modern bodybuilding

He has said this ‘grainy’ look is lost because of such drugs. Insulin and growth hormones require the user to eat a lot of food meaning people are in a less lean and healthy condition on stage, and they have a lack of muscle separation which usually is the key to looking great.

This is why sometimes it is not always the biggest competitor who wins, it’s also the one in the best condition or with best genetics/muscle insertions.

Modern bodybuilding = psychology of crowds?

When drugs started becoming more prevalent in the industry, things probably also started to escalate very quickly. If you know your opponent is probably going to abuse steroids or take powerful substances like insulin, it’s easy to see why people would be tempted to take the same measures in an attempt to make the competition fair.

That is when bodybuilders began to understand that they had to start abusing them. It led to the modern bodybuilding attitude of – who is the biggest freak out there?

Markus Ruhl freaky bodybuilder from the 90s
Markus Ruhl – huge bodybuilder from the 90s

It also appears that this attitude doesn’t really appeal to the majority of spectators either. Also more drugs like there is these days does not even make the guys stand out compared to the old-school bodybuilders.

The condition is not as beautiful. So even if some of the guys today are technically bigger, they don’t look like it because of their condition might not look as good as an old-school Flex Wheeler.

It is not surprising to see this happening when mixing some of the ways we behave.

Good old Eugene Sandow would certainly be surprised of the way bodybuilding has evolved these days!

eugene sandow posing

This guy was a strong beast! Natural power!

Fake tan, what’s with all the fake tan? (and bad lighting…)

This definitely helps to expose and define muscles a bit more, but now it’s got to the point where it is hiding the actual condition. The lighting is not great either for some reason. That’s hard to understand why.

fake tan and bad lighting in bodybuilding

Everyone is a professional bodybuilder

Old-school bodybuilders must be surprised at how many pros we have these days. There are a lot of people who seem to have their professional cards now. Instagram is a massive pro-card portfolio with bodybuilders that aren’t standing out from one another as much as we’d expect them to be. Back in the days most of bodybuilders would stand out for their exceptional biceps, or chest, aesthetics…

Today the increase of steroid use are mostly showing us competitors with 3D shoulders, ripped physiques, which were unknown 2 years ago – a ketogenic e-book in the caption and a new video doing lateral raises with a barbell. 


Ok, maybe that was exaggerated, but there is a part of truth.

Drugs are certainly a big factor. A lot of these pro-bodybuilders come as they go, which is strange.

The last critique: judging is poor

It’s all politics?

It is not rare to see some people with exceptional shapes and standings lose to others with a poorer condition. Posing certainly has a role, as does confidence on stage. But sometimes none of this can explain the reason in some decisions.

This can get really frustrating if you have spent 5 months cutting down and worked exceptionally hard only to lose to someone who obviously does not have the same condition. That was the case for Igor, a Youtuber who saw who he lost to at his competition. He felt like he was one of the victims of that curse!

Bodybuilding can get quite unfair!


Why not just bring it back to where it all started? – naturally.

By learning how to become a great natural bodybuilder!

If that’s your case, feel free to read the Beginner’s guide to natural bodybuilding!

Any questions? Feel free to leave one in the comments!